Southern California, Part 1. Santa Barbara, Ventura, Marina del Rey
Our weather luck holding, the 100 miles overnight passage to Santa Barbara was perfect. Gentle old lazy swell and calm seas. In the morning as we were getting closer, our course took us in sight of a number of oil platforms, which made me think that if I'd wanted to zig zag around oil installations I could have stayed in Texas!
Even less pleasant we went through a large oil slick, measuring many miles, which locals assure us is from natural seepage of crude oil from the bed rock. It is those naturally occurring seepages that alerted the first oil entrepreneurs to the existence of underground oil offshore, which eventually led to building oil drilling platforms and exploiting the resulting oil wells.
Apparently this is the first place offshore drilling was used, though I've seen the same claim made in Baytown, TX. I suppose it all depends on the definition of "Offshore", and realistically California seems to have a more valid claim considering the depths here versus the shallows salt water swamps of Baytown.
We're not exactly keen on crude oil slicks, the resulting smells and tar balls on the beaches, so we'd definitely exclude living waterfront in the area, however nice it is otherwise. A good thing since there is no way we could afford it in any case. Boating through the region is all we can realistically afford.
Arrival in Santa Barbara marina was an organized mess that reminded me of some of the busy tourist ports in Southern France in the summer. The marina doesn't take reservations, so you have to dock at an arrival dock in front of the harbor office to present your official documentation and insurance before they assign you a slip. Additionally they normally send an officer to board your boat to throw a dye tablet in your black water tank to ensure no overboard discharging.
To no-one's surprise the arrival dock was full with many boats circling and waiting their turn to dock in the tight basin. Our turn came, and I presented Enfin's documentation, got a dock assigned and paid. I confirmed I'd be more than happy to have an officer board us, but would they please wear a surgical mask while onboard?
I had contacted the office by phone a few days back to gauge whether they'd have a spot for us or not, and a very kind officer confirmed we should be able to get a slip for our dates, but couldn't guarantee anything. I had mentioned my immune-compromised status and need to wear a mask and the officer confirmed they would help me by wearing theirs.
By luck, I ended up talking to the same officer who remembered our discussion, and he saw I was wearing my N95 mask in his office. He confirmed the boarding officer would wear a mask, and said we could go to our slip now and the officer would board "when and if he could". No one ever showed up, and I suspect the main office simply "forgot" to board us to make everyone's life easier. Not that they're taking any risk: Enfin obviously doesn't empty its black water tank in restricted waters.
Our assigned slip was very far at the end of a long dock, about as far as one can walk in the marina, and luxury of luxury we had a floating toilet and shower block only 2 slots down from ours, as well as trash cans. No long walks to the restroom or trash. It's the little things that make life easy.
It did have a nasty big cement column to stern tie to, getting in the way of our docking maneuver, leaving only 1.5 foot spare over our width. It made for a sporty arrival in light crosswinds, but luckily I know my boat well, Di can guide me calmly over our Bluetooth headsets and a kind neighbor helped us with the bow line. To make things even tighter, the forward end of the slip was already occupied by a small floating dock with surfboards on it. It seems Santa Barbara marina isn't afraid of double booking slips!
Enfin safely squeezed in, it was time to go explore the city. We went for many very pleasant walks along the waterfront. On the West side, a beach and a park on a hill, on the East side, a long magnificent beach, and the pier.
Even better, we got to meet friends of a dear Houston friend, a charming couple with whom we had plenty in common.
What a funny connected world we live in where a single degree of separation means you know people all over the world.
They kindly drove down to us and we had a pleasant meal on the waterfront terrace.
A perfect way to end another good day in Santa Barbara.
We had a grocery store within nice walking distance of the marina, going through very typical streets with nice houses that would not look out of place in Southern France or around the Mediterranean.
We filled up on fresh groceries at a mid sized Mexican market, where I would always grab a strawberry "paleta", made with big chunks of fruits inside. I hadn't had any since Houston, when a Spanish only speaking lady asked me if I wanted the syrup on my fresas ice cream spicy or very spicy? Knowing Mexican food can get real spicy, even for someone who enjoys it, I elected to go for the spicy option, before even having time to ask myself why I was being asked about which hot sauce should go on my strawberries.
To my surprise the lady squirted a huge amount of spicy red sauce, then added dry peppers to the mix. I couldn't believe my eyes, and started to look around the shop to check for any hidden cameras as by now I was pretty convinced I was getting pranked and would feature on the next hidden camera TV show. "Gringo gets chili strawberry ice cream" would be the obvious theme.
But no, no camera, just a lady preparing a strawberry ice cream the way she knows how to.
I took a spoonful, and was instantly hooked. The same evening, I went back with Di, and the strawberry ice cream with lime and red pepper has been a favorite ever since. I also enjoy taking friends there, so they get the same experience.
Glad to find my strawberry ice creams again, and looking forward to Mexico for plenty more.
After 5 days of a good thing, we set off for Ventura. The trip was short, now in the well established Southern California weather where there is little need to follow weather reports (yet I do of course). It's sunny every day, calm in the mornings and evenings, with a little breeze in the afternoon. End of weather report.
Ventura is a large protected bay with many marinas. We'd made reservations in a Safe Harbor marina, a chain of marinas that is trying to grow their presence. I'm not sure I am all that excited by the idea of marina chains, but I must admit that the place was very pleasant, with a level of care that mirrored luxury hotels. For once it felt like the marina was geared towards cruisers too, not just long term tenants, and the staff reflected the welcoming attitude.
The grounds were maintained to perfection, and our dock had a very neat little floating seating area with BBQs, nice outdoor furniture under large sunshades. Being just across from Enfin, we brought our various snacks, some drinks and enjoyed a very relaxed aperitif on the water, looking over our boat. It was an extra large cockpit area to complement Enfin's.
For the first time in a very long time we were given a slip with floating fingers on both sides of the boat. Since Enfin only has a starboard boarding gate we almost never get the Port side hull on a dock. That makes it difficult to reach it for washing, or any other maintenance tasks.
So with the whole boat easily reachable, we decided to power-wash and detail the whole hull, upper deck and bow. I'm not sure our sailing neighbor was all impressed with our noisy power-washer and its spray, so I apologized profusely and kept the noise to a minimum, but it had to be done. We had already postponed washing the boat in Santa Barbara since our neighbor there was doing gel-coat and varnish work.
Hard work for Di and I, but after a lot of cruising in the cold it did the boat a lot of good. We'll keep at it and start detailing the boat more and more in the coming weeks, now that we are in more consistent good weather.
We alternated washing the boat with long walks around the whole bay, walks to the beach and some light shopping. We even stopped for some delicious croissants: French bakers have found their niche in California where their skills seem appreciated.
We'd again decided on a 5 days stay. Without any weather worries, I simply decided to split the remaining days in Southern California in 5 day increments. Simple and leaves us plenty of time to explore each stop.
Next on our Southern trek: Marina del Rey. It touts itself as "Los Angeles' marina" and is a huge man made complex with over 20 marinas and 6,000 boats. Apparently it was the largest marina complex in the world until Dubai recently stole that crown.
It took us a good 20 minutes from the entrance jetty all the way to the furthest point inside the complex where our marina was. Thankfully the lady at the marina reservation office had sent me a map of our slip. This is not the kind of place where you could just show up and start winging it, trying to figure out the layout of the marina by reading the dock numbers.
Our slip was very convenient, just across from a long shaded park to take Princess for pleasant walks, with a grocery store nearby. With a whole town built around a marina complex, Marina del Rey is geared towards a certain water oriented lifestyle, yet didn't seem very cruiser friendly. Making reservations for a transient slip is a convoluted mess since the place is divided in so many marinas: How can a non-local know which one is which, which one makes more sense, how much they cost, etc.. Should we call each one?
On that subject, there is a whole blog post to be made about Southern California marinas already, even though we still haven't finished our cruise here. I'll wait until we have but it is becoming clear why we were told many times "up North" about the overall lack of friendly service towards transients and cruising boats. It seems more and more likely that if we ever go back North we will simply skip over the whole place. Enfin can do long distance passages with ease, so we'll have no need to suffer the same reservation and transient berth maze as we did on our way down.
That being put aside, we don't let that spoil our mood. We're tourists in a new place so we did the tourist things too, in between bouts of further boat washing.
That included the beach and pier of course, as well as Venice Beach and its canals.
Funny enough, we lived in a Venetian themed subdivision in Florida, with houses along many canals. Ours had a bay front beach, and a canal on the side. The best of both worlds.
Waterfront living is just so nice, and we've been privileged to live that life for well over 20 years now. Enfin is just the continuation of our waterfront life.
Next stop will be Long Beach. I used to go there regularly as a conference speaker and took Di with me on one occasion. It'll be fun to reconnect and re-discover the place, this time from the water side.